Metta, the first of the Buddha's Four Immeasurable Qualities, is a Pali word generally translated as lovingkindness (or loving-kindness). Why isn't it just love? What's kindness got to do with it?
We tend to use the word "love" a lot. We love coffee, kittens, summer days, dry white wine, walks on the beach at sunset, and "The Daily Show." In the old but still relevant "Annie Hall," Woody Allen tells Diane Keaton that he doesn't just love her, he "lurves" her to distinguish his feelings from the generic "love" we express toward those things we like.
Adding the suffix "kindness" changes things in a fundamental way. Kindness is not a word that we throw around lightly. We might use "nice" in its place -- when someone brings us coffee or chocolate, you might say, "Oh, that's so nice of you." And it is nice. But it's also kind. And because kindness is a word that's not in our everyday vocabulary, throwing it in stops our minds, which gives them time to undo the auto reply and think about what we're saying.
My first experience with metta was at a weekend retreat. In the traditional teachings, you practice metta by starting with yourself and going through a succession of people ending with everyone in the whole wide world (and beyond, if you think that way).
But we started with someone dear to us, someone we love, someone it's easy to send the wishes that they be happy, safe, healthy, and live with ease. Then, we were told, to let our sense or image of that person dissolve -- while keeping that loving feeling -- and put ourselves in that place.
For me, and many others in the room, the engine fell out of the metta machine at that point and came to a dead stop. That lovin' feeling? Now it's gone gone gone. Like many people, I was not raised with the idea that I should love myself or be kind to myself. Much was expected of me, and I expected even more. Kindness was not on the rubric.
For me, one of the radical ideas of Buddhism is that I should love myself as I love my (metaphorical) neighbor, that I was as deserving of kindness as anyone else. That, in fact, if I cannot treat myself with love and kindness, what I offer to others may appear to be metta-phorical but, in fact, is meant to appease or win favor and is based in fear or pity.
What we call "love" is often attachment -- maybe, if you're close enough to adolescence or adolescents, you've heard the phrase, "If you love chocolate so much you should marry it." "I love coffee" means "I want coffee" and the more of it the better.
Real love, the kind meant by metta, isn't grasping; it's generous. Think of a being you really love -- you want them to have the best, you give them the corner piece of the cake with all the frosting, and you take a center piece. You care for them.
Once I was on retreat, and I was so tired that I couldn't handle the slow, circular walking meditation; I felt like I would crash into a wall or fall over. I left the room (which is how in it's done in this tradition) and met the teacher coming down the hall. I told him how I felt and said I was going to lie down on the couch in the common room and I was really sorry, I knew I should be walking, but ... He cut me off. "That would be the kind thing to do," he said.
And the kind thing is always the loving thing. We just need to be reminded of that.